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The Power of Acknowledgements

Flowers. I love them. When I used to stay in Beijing, the one thing I did religiously every weekend was to make a trip down to the wholesale flower market to buy a big bouquet of flowers for my apartment. Actually, they are for me. I love the sight and smell of flowers. They cheer me up. They remind me of the beauty in this world. They remind to stop rushing around and (literally) smell the flowers. I love flowers.

In the past month, I know of four bouquets of flowers that brightened up six lives. I sent my secretary a bouquet of flowers for Secretary’s Day – as it turned out, it was the first time ever she received flowers. She then sent her mother and sister-in-law flowers for Mother’s Day. I sent my gf a bouquet of flowers on her birthday, in the name of another gf who is now living in India and me.

There was a stretch last year when I was feeling low. My husband sent me flowers to cheer me up. It lifted me out of my malaise and melancholy mood. I was reminded that I am loved no matter what and every time my memories recall that file, I am reminded I am loved. (I couldn’t resist patting myself on the back for cleverly showing my husband my favourite online floral shop some time back. Ha!)

In the lift on my way home, I met a pair of folks whom I believe to be co-workers. The lady’s eyes lit up when she saw the bouquet and said, beautiful flowers, with a whimsical smile. The guy asked if it was my birthday or anniversary or some special day. Before I could answer, the lady added, did he do something wrong?

I laughed then and I laugh now at the memory of that short exchange. I remember I responded: They are from my husband, I was feeling a little down the last few days and he sent them to cheer me up. The woman blushed a little, I guess somewhat embarrassed about her last remark. The guy simply said, Wow.

My passing shot delivered with a smile: you don’t need a reason to send someone flowers. Everyone likes to know he is being appreciated in some way.

Acknowledgement is for everyone, anytime, anywhere. Flowers are but a tool; in my opinion a simple and effective one. You don’t need a reason to acknowledge someone. You don’t need to be a man to send flowers. You don’t need to be a woman to receive them. You don’t need to wait for a “special” day to do so. You could acknowledge someone for no reason and THAT would make any normal day special for the person.

I can think of a million reasons to acknowledge the people in my life but there really is only one that matters: because I can. Like the ones who make my day bearable when it gets tough going; the ones who make me smile; the ones who lighten my work and life loads; the ones who quietly exist in my life; the ones who left a footprint in the years passed; the ones who touched my life in the many small ways that I sometimes do not realise until much later.

It is with hindsight that I saw that the very buying flowers for myself in Beijing was an acknowledgement of my life in this foreign land; a simple acknowledgement of my courage to stay sane despite all the chaos I was experiencing. A willingness to look past the struggles, the flowers were an expression of my gratitude that I was able to still enjoy the simple beauty in life.

My secretary expressed her love and acknowledgement for her mother and sister in law with flowers, a simple act that tilted everyone out of their comfort zones and reminded everybody that something bigger is present, something hopeful and optimistic that is available in life. The flowers I sent was my way of saying ‘thank you for being in my life’. It over-rode my sense of inadequacy in our relationships and was my way of expressing my gratitude that I am blessed by their existence in my life.

Sometimes we forget to count our blessings. Yet, don’t just stop at that. Take it one step further – acknowledge the people for being a blessing in your life in the first place.

Acknowledgement is a simple act of generosity and kindness. When was the last time you acknowledged someone in your life?

P/s: There is another aspect to acknowledgement that applies in the not-so-pleasant aspects of life. I am leaving that for a separate post as it deserves its own space.

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An Open Letter to Opposition parties in Singapore

In his email from Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) James Gomez to the media, he made an excellent point that the choice of political system belongs to Singaporeans and not the ruling government. In the same letter, he demanded PAP to release its manifesto saying “We and the people want to scrutinize what programs the PAP is going to introduce to alleviate the suffering of Singaporeans.”

As much as I agree with SDP’s call, I ask the same of SDP and all Opposition parties in Singapore. Show us CONCRETE alternatives to what you claim to be bad policies, viable alternatives which will “alleviate the suffering of Singaporeans.”

We know the PAP is not perfect. We know they have made mistakes. At some point, the Opposition’s unrelentless repetition of this only serves to ANNOY and ALIENATE frustrated Singaporeans who are not contented with the status quo but have no viable, credible option. It is like rubbing salt into the wound. This does exactly what SDP claims the PM did when he said the PAP considered “splitting into two” – “belittling and patronising” Singaporeans’ sense of judgement and capacity to think critically.

Dear Opposition, you are asking Singaporeans to vote for you to do what? So that you can criticise the PAP on our behalf, be the VOICE of Singaporeans in your words?

What makes you think that you can TALK us into believing we have a better future waiting for us if we play along with you? Just because you keep throwing verbal punches at the PAP?

In case you have not noticed, Singaporeans’ cynicism is not even the point. We Singaporeans are a pragmatic lot. Like it or not, the tentacles of PAP are entrenched in the everyday fabric of every Singaporean’s life that we Singaporeans cannot imagine life without PAP in charge.

You can criticise all you want – that’s the easy part. Making others look bad is the easy part. The difficult part is to PROVE you are able to substantiate your words with actions. To win our hearts you have to offer concrete programs and ways to better Singaporeans’ lives. You cannot ask us to vote you in FIRST before you tell us what you can do. That seems to me – a complete political novice – extraordinarily naive.

Yes, we know your job is extremely tough; PAP made sure of it by setting a pretty high benchmark, in spite of all its shortcomings. You cannot erase the good the ruling government has done all these years by insisting they are flawed. We all are.

You need to show you can do better by raising the benchmark, not by dragging it down along with everything else. To borrow the SDP tagline, show us it is really “about the people” and not politicians drumming the right noises to win this game called General Elections of the Republic of Singapore.

Yours Truly
A PR who considers herself a Singaporean at heart

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How do I see the upcoming GE?

I once followed Parliament sessions in Singapore quite closely. I am genuinely interested to know what the Singapore government is doing for the people, the ones it says it is representing.

After a while, I lost interest. I thought perhaps I’m not patient enough to listen to everything. The sessions were honestly, boring. The format isn’t exactly a debate like the one in the UK. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the sessions are more like an information session for the ruling government to inform the rest of the nation what it has decided to do. [Rephrased] what it thinks is in the best interest of the nation and us, the people. That, I can read from the papers the next day. Plus the papers provide further analysis and opinions. So I stopped watching the post 10pm news telecast of Parliament session highlights.

Over time, I didn’t see or hear anything that seemed to change my impression. The “lively debate” surrounding the two casinos. What a public reaction – for once, SIngaporeans spoke up. But wait, as the furor died down, I realised none of what was said seemed to have made any difference to the final outcome. It seemed it was a done deal afterall. Life goes on and now we can be proud we have two casinos thriving in approx. 700 km2 of land area.

Then there is the perennial ‘debate’ about our ministers’ salaries. I am not sure how this policy came to pass. I am under the impression that this matter while hotly debated and even soundly criticised by Sylvia Lim (Chairman of Workers’ Party in Singapore in this video), the policy was never an option. It was a done deal.

This is an interesting article that compares Singaporean ministers’ salaries to leaders around the world – I have not verified the information and probably wouldn’t. If what is reported is accurate, I am shocked. How can our ministers, who supposedly represent the common people, empathise with what is going on on the ground, when they live in such lofty skies? Our PM earns more than Obama in a year (base salary only).

Then there is the 6 million population target. Where did that come from??? Who decided Singapore needs 6 million people? Assuming that indeed is the magic number for our little country, what was the planning done to absorb that? We are NOW over congested – our roads, our trains, our buses. Sky high cost of living. Young couples having to wait an average 3 years for a home to call their own, that is, provided they can afford it.

LTA is compensating for wrongful estimates in number of cars and COEs needed. Now we are paying the price of it. Take the public transport they say. Transport Minister, with all due respect, have you ever tried taking the MRT during peak hour yourself? Have you ever done it, without informing the civil servants of an impending visit?

HDB is still boasting that it is doing all the right things to ensure Singaporeans have a roof over their heads, just be patient. The BTO scheme is at its most aggressive ever, it says. Yet there are reports ever so often that a project is only a go if it meets the minimum subscription rate. If it doesn’t, sorry for those who did put in a bid, you have to wait for the economic numbers to make sense before you get a sniff of your future home. As the name suggest, built to order (BTO). You forgot the fine print – only build when there is minimum order. Perhaps they should change the name to BTMO??

Public service goods should be exactly that, PUBLIC SERVICE goods. Sure there is a cost to these goods. The role of the government is to ensure taxpayers’ monies are used to benefit the people, the country, not wasted on nonsensical things and spent carelessly. The HDB is using taxpayers’ funds to build these homes. Yes they are subsidized (by who again?). They are not free; we still pay for them. (BTW, the fact the HDB flats are on a 99 year lease means we are really renting them from the government, not real ownership per se.) LTA, HDB and Singapore Power are all making money. These goods – public transport, public housing and power – are all money-making enterprises. Why aren’t social goods being treated as they are supposed to be?

My sister shared with me a story recently about a friend who went to a government hospital due to severe stomach pains. Before she was allowed to see a doctor, she was told to pay up first. No payment, no doctor. Oh what about the latest episode where a hospital told a patient the queue is 3 mths for subsidised healthcare as opposed to 3 minutes if you opt for private?

As someone so aptly summed it up: Singapore is a great place to live in if you have the financial means.

I found recent remarks by the new Workers’ Party candidate Chen Shao Mao a breath of fresh air and poignant (see end of article). Finally someone is asking the right questions and zooming in on the matters that will make a difference to all of us.

If only the government will listen for a change, instead of busy defending its policies and deflecting mistakes. Look, I am a huge fan of the Singapore government. I am a Malaysian who is born and bred here and lived in Singapore all my life. I love Singapore. It is my home and believe it or not, I consider it home and my country.

Without a doubt, Singapore wouldn’t be where it is today, and everyone who lives in this city state will not have the lifestyle options we have, if not for the ruling government. (The quality of life is a different story and left to another post.)

I am not a supporter of the opposition parties. As a PR I don’t even get to vote. I wrote this not as an act of defiance towards the PAP. I am not interested in the opposition’s proposition that the opposition will provide an alternative government to keep the ruling government in check. That remains to be seen.

I support anyone who can contribute to my country and I think this job is big enough, important enough to include everyone with the ability and passion to serve this country, regardless of the party. If it is rubbish, it is rubbish. If it makes sense, can we give it a chance?

Is it too much to ask the government to LISTEN to the people and for once, accept with humility that it has made mistakes and accept that it is not the only one capable of leading Singapore to the next level?

Several senior members of the ruling party have clearly said that this election is critical to the long term success of Singapore. Watershed. Indeed.

My humble opinion is that the government has to demonstrate that it is truly – not just paying lip service to – paying attention to what the people are saying. Instead of crushing and stifling the opposition and get all wrapped up in looking good politically, LISTEN to the people.

Singaporeans are not stupid (the government made sure of that – we have one of the highest literacy rates in the world.) We have been quietly watching and learning. We are more passionate about this country than some people give us credit for sometimes. We can think, if the government stops for a second to assume we can’t. If the opposition is without substance and you are truly serving the people, you will see the polls reflecting that understanding.

Excerpt from Interview with Chen Shao Mao, first appeared in Lianhe Zaobao and subsequently translted into English.

A dominant party is efficient in executing policies, but what effects has this brought about? What are our most important policies In recent years? Yes, it is the foreign labour policy. To let in foreign labour is to spur the economy, without concern about productivity that we’ve previously talked about. This policy has created a crude economic growth, and what is the price? It is the jobs, education, housing, living space, transportation of Singaporeans. These are all part of the price that we’ve paid.

Before the implementation of this policy, what form of discussion have we had? You have heard that Singapore plans to house a population of 6.5 million in the future, but not everybody is sure that this is indeed our policy. Such an important policy, are people consulted for a discussion? Didn’t they know that this will have a great impact on the lives on Singaporeans? To me, this discussion is insufficient. Even if having multiple parties in the Parliament affects efficiency, but to have a debate in the Parliament for huge policy decisions, is this inefficiency a fair price to pay? I think it’s worth it.

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Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frighten us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t save the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make a difference, to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

– attributed to Marianne Williamson

(Thank you Tai-san for sharing this poem.)

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My Valentine

A friend posted on her FB yesterday asking if married couples (those who are married for a while) still celebrate Valentine’s Day.

My husband and I have no specific plans to celebrate this day except to spend time with each other. We talked about it but the conversation was brief. It’s not that we don’t celebrate our love. We share the view that we don’t need to wait for a specific day to show our love for each other; and the display of our love doesn’t come in the form of bouquets of flowers, expensive meals, gifts or doing anything out of the ordinary.

Now, I am not saying I don’t like flowers, gifts or my husband doing something ‘special’ for me. Come on, I am a woman! I do like superficial things like that, really.

I am saying we don’t need a reason or a special date to show we love each other.  

This morning he woke me up with a kiss as usual. As my eyes struggled to open, he greeted me with a smile and pointed to the dresser table. A present! Happy Valentine’s Day darling, he said. I smiled and thought, GOSH, he got me a present. In that moment, I am so aware of my husband’s love for me. I reached for him and gave him a kiss, hug and a big smile. It doesn’t matter what he bought for me; it was the way he was being with me. And BEING cannot be bought or faked.

My husband is my alarm clock. He wakes me up with a kiss every morning. He wakes up early so I get to sleep in. He would get ready for work then come wake me so I have the bathroom and room to myself to get ready for my day. He would kiss me goodbye when he leaves the house before I do. He romances me every day.

He makes me laugh. He laughs with me. He supports my choices. He listens and demands the same of me. He shares his life and dreams with me. He gives me room to be me. He loves me for who I am. He loves me for who I am not. We bring out the best and worst of each other. He apologises when he makes a mistake. He gives me room to apologise when I make a mistake. He watches chick flicks just because he wants to. He would record a show he likes on TV so I get to watch it too. He sent me a bouquet of flowers just to cheer me up when I am having a bad day. He indulges me and thanks me when I indulge him. I am me, he is him and we are us.

I have never felt more loved by a man in my life. His generosity, humanity and passion for life provide me a safe space to just be. Valentine’s Day reminds me to not to take him for granted.  I am deeply grateful for him giving himself to me everyday, in his own way. That’s the best gift I can ask for in a husband.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Emril. Now, where are my flowers?

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I am such a scrooge

Being empowering is something I’ve always wanted – to empower people around me to be the best they can be. Over the years, I have had different appreciation of what empowerment means, what it looks like, what it takes.

For most of my life, I experience empowerment to be “telling someone what to do and giving the person space to do it”. First and foremost, I must have the solution to whatever the person is dealing with. Then I posture myself in a way that allows me to tell/advice the person how to do it. Finally, allowing the person to actually act on my wisdom/suggestion/advice without me trying to do everything myself.  This particular view of empowerment leaves me feeling that I have to be Miss Know-it-all and Solve-it-all.

This form of empowerment, at some level, propels me to seek for every solution possible, within the realm of what I know. I became pretty good with solving problems. However, every now and then (which is quite often actually), I hit a wall. I draw a blank. I don’t know what to do, don’t know how to respond to a problem. I get totally stressed out about not knowing what the next step should be. If I didn’t know, how could I empower others??????

Since I took on being a coach in a leadership training program last year, I truly begin to experience empowerment in a new way. There is no right or wrong way to empowerment per se. Yet the way I have experienced it in the past year or so have left me with a whole new sense of freedom to be with people the way they are and the way they are not; with a brand new perspective to how great people can be when real empowerment – not domination – is present.

As a coach I saw for myself a few things that, when distinguished, opened up a whole new world for me:

1. My previous way of being empowerment was coming from my fear of being insecure and inadequate. If I didn’t have answers, what value do I bring to this world? A long-time, entrenched fear that I need to prove I am good enough at every chance I get or I am nothing.

2. I was trying to fix and change things, to become some way I want it to be. If it wasn’t the way I think it should be, any other way would render me pretty useless wouldn’t it?

3. Resistance, resistance. I resist the world the way IT IS NOT as it did not fit my view of how it should be.

4. I was trying to empower others when I would not empower myself. I mean how empowering is it for me if I do not allow myself to make mistakes, if I constantly beat myself up for being imperfect?

I get it. It is soooooooooooo clear. It was all a pretense – me wanting to empower others. My focus was on how I survive my perpetual doubts over my worthiness; yet I pretended that it was about others. And I have been wondering why empowering others never comes easy to me, no matter how hard I try. I was at war with myself: pretending to be empowering others when I am really only interested in how that makes me feel about myself.

I am such a scrooge. Not only was I totally not generous with myself, I was unable to be generous with the people I claim to want to empower. Instead of giving them space to just be themselves, create space for their greatness to show up, my focus was validating my existence by me providing as many answers as I can in life.

In fact, I now see very clearly that empowerment is all encompassing, not a single dimensional problem solving process. 

Generosity is like the front and back of our hands – if I am not generous with myself, I can’t be generous with others. If I can’t live with my mistakes, I cannot tolerate other people making mistakes. If I cannot appreciate my own greatness, I cannot possibly see the greatness in others.

Empowerment is now to me an act of generosity to self and others. Giving myself permission to make a difference to others given all my imperfections. Giving others the space to keep growing and defining their own greatness, in areas of their life that matter to them and are important to them.

Thank you Landmark Education, for giving me a whole new way of living my life, for experiencing myself and humanity. Thank you for empowering and enabling me to live my life with peace and power. I love my life!

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Being a friend

I thought about what it means to be a friend today. I am surrounded by friendships. I am touched by friendships. I am blessed by those who so generously gifted their friendship to me.

For many years, I tried to be as good a friend as I can be. My way of showing that was being supportive through good or bad, whether I agreed or disagreed with my friend. I stand by my friend. Agreement is best, don’t impose, don’t push, don’t challenge too hard. It’s their lives to live.

Am I really a friend? Being in agreement all the time, holding my tongue, not daring to say what I think? And then cringe when things do go haywire. Don’t worry, I’m here no matter what happens. That, was something I used to say a lot to myself to convince myself I am a good friend.

What inauthenticity and what audacity. I was only interested in ME looking good. If I was really interested in the wellbeing of my so-called friend, I would have stood up and be counted, not afraid to be straight even if that may look bad. Sure, my friend may not agree with me or heed my suggestions.

It is living in NOW that I could possibly hope to have any impact on anyone’s life. Regrets, hindsight wisdom and if-onlys make no difference to anyone.

I have learnt that taking a stand for someone does not require me to be rude, aggressive or pushy. I will always remember what a coach once said in a class I attended: to be a stand is to be a listening for someone’s greatness to show up. Inside of this space, there is room for disagreements and different opinions.

The power of being a stand is simply accepting that someone can be great, without proof or evidence. You are great because you are.  

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